Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Enjoying It More Than I Remember Before, Blackadder Goes Forth Part 1 Is Surprisingly Good!

The Good: Funny, Good characters, Decent acting
The Bad: Medium, Repetitive humor
The Basics: Funny and with more universal humor than I remembered it, the sarcastic Blackadder returns for Blackadder Goes Forth, Part 1 in World War 1!

Only those who have seen the other seasons of Blackadder are likely to find Blackadder Goes Forth anything less than absolutely incredible and original. After all, if one has not seen any of the earlier incarnations of the historic comedy, it is unlikely they would find the sarcasm, wit and articulation of Edmund Blackadder to be anything other than unique in the history of comedy. Moreover, the buffoons who surround Blackadder are played by comic geniuses like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, so the show is brimming with talent and it appears to be unique.

But for fans of the Blackadder franchise, by the time Blackadder Goes Forth begins, the premise is obvious and most of the jokes are beaten deader than a dead horse after St. Beatings Day. Blackadder, in this incarnation, is a Captain in the British Army in World War One, stationed at the front and desperate to do anything to stay alive. Blackadder Goes Forth, Part 1 is a collection of the first three (of six) episodes from this series of Blackadder.

In "Captain Cook," Captain Edmund Blackadder intuits that General Haig's next plan for winning the war is the same plan as the prior seventeen times. Rather than go over the top into certain death, Blackadder entertains one of Baldrick's brilliant ideas, which turns out to be utterly unfeasible. However, when General Melchard reveals that "King And Country" needs a rousing patriotic portrait, Blackadder sees his opportunity to get out of the trenches.

Having swindled Lieutenant George out of just such a painting, Blackadder enthusiastically heads to high command in hopes of being reassigned to Paris. Unfortunately for him, Darling and Melchard have something else in store for him. As premiere artist of the day, Blackadder is assigned to draw a map of No Man's Land!

In "Corporal Punishment," Edmund manufactures one communications problem after another to ignore the persistent orders to push forth into No Man's Land and get killed. In his efforts, he pretends his phone is not working, disregards a telegram that abbreviates his name and ultimately shoots a prized pigeon which was General Melchard's only childhood friend. Arriving at the front, disgusted at the lack of advancement on Blackadder's part, Melchard learns of the death of his pigeon and charges Edmund with disobeying orders.

Edmund turns up for his court martial, dismayed that George will be his legal defender, only to discover that Darling is the prosecutor and the judge is none other than Melchard himself. Sentenced rather quickly to death, Blackadder awaits a firing squad, cursing his fate and his friends, hoping for any last resort, even the aid of Baldrick!

In "Major Star," Blackadder's distaste for Charlie Chaplin puts him on the outs with his subordinates, who are in love with the works of the American actor. However, when General Melchard arrives with news that the military is looking to form a troupe to entertain both the troops and the civilians in London, Edmund sees his opportunity to get away from the front. Conniving to be put in charge of the production, Blackadder wrangles talent from his unit, including the newly marxist Baldrick and the happy-in-drag George.

Disaster, however, strikes Blackadder's plan when Melchard, not realizing Georgina (George's drag act) is not a woman and he becomes infatuated with her. George, happy to play along, finds himself in the position of possibly being engaged to Melchard and Blackadder must keep the two apart and get out of the situation before Melchard learns the truth!

It is a rare thing that I end up calling a VHS a poor use of the medium. Indeed, it is a poor medium, but the use of it is often limited only to being that medium. In the case of Blackadder Goes Forth, Part 1 it is a poor use of the poor medium: the entire fourth season of Blackadder could easily have fit on one video whatwith its running time being under three hours. That said, it is still funny and I found I enjoyed it more this most recent viewing.

Blackadder Goes Forth is a wonderful mix of historical one-liners that make obscure references to British and European history and universal, timeless humor. So, for instance, in "Major Star," there are numerous allusions to various actors, like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, while "Corporal Punishment" has such basic and obvious humor as Blackadder feebly covering up the bones from the pigeon he has just eaten while denying its death and a trial where the judge is also the prosecution's star witness. There's a good balance between the was jokes about sex and jokes about the specifics (lack of) battle plans during World War One. The balance makes for a smart and simultaneously universal show.

As well, the characters are fun and interesting. Edmund is hilarious with his cold sarcasm and Lieutenant George and Private Baldrick are utter idiots. Fans of the Blackadder franchise will likely enjoy seeing Edmund as the smartest man in the trenches in Blackadder Goes Forth and the points when he must talk to oblivious commanding officers are funny with the way he gets in jabs that go completely over their heads.

On the character front, these first episodes of Blackadder Goes Forth are fleshed out with General Melchard who is presented as a lunatic with a giant mustache and Captain Darling, his cowardly, sycophantic assistant. Watching Edmund spar with Darling (in prior incarnations, he has sparred with the Melchard character) shakes things up some and keeps the actors from simply repeating their past performances.

The acting is great as well, whatwith Rowan Atkinson taking the title role of Edmund Blackadder. Atkinson is given a fairly unique acting challenge: the present essentially the same character (Blackadder) a different way while keeping the performance fresh and funny. Atkinson does this by altering the delivery of his lines. In this season, he infuses every line with a tired quality, as if his character is sick of the war and the waiting. The tired quality makes some of his deliveries even sharper as he sounds entirely unimpressed by everyone and everything he encounters! Atkinson makes for a credible leader in this series and he plays off the sniveling, yet powerful sarcasm that Tim McInnerny presents with Darling wonderfully.

In short, anyone looking for a hilarious war comedy will find it with Blackadder Goes Forth and this video is the one to start with!

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be Blackadder Goes Forth, reviewed here!
As well, those who already love Blackadder will find Blackadder - The Complete Series to be an even better buy, reviewed here!
Thanks for reading!]


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© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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